Multihull versus monohull
Catamarans are less popular amongst some boating purists who see catamaran sailing as less ‘hard core’ than traditional monohulls and therefore may be stubborn about converting. However, in recent years more and more owners have been choosing catamarans for blue water cruising. Before we explore why this may be the case, let’s quickly get clear on the basics.
What’s a catamaran?
What differentiates a catamaran from other boats is that rather than having just one hull, the catamaran has two. You may have travelled by the ferry equivalent of a catamaran, the FastCat. Trimarans have followed the design of catamarans and as their name suggests they have three hulls in parallel. Most trimarans are sailing yachts designed for racing or recreation but some are ferries and warships.
We may also need to explain what a hull is. The hull is the watertight body of the boat. The structure of a boat’s hull varies depending on the vessel type and what it’s designed for. To help visualise this, oppies are sometimes known as ‘floating bathtubs’; the reason behind this affectionate nickname is that the hull of an oppie is akin to a bathtub and the bathtub/hull is the bit that the sailor sits in. The comfort and stability that this design provides, relative to more streamlined boats built for speed, is what makes oppies great dinghys for youngsters to learn to sail in.
Why are catamarans becoming more popular
Catamarans are becoming increasingly popular among cruisers. Various versions of the multihull design were first adopted many, many years ago around the world but it first became modernised throughout the 60s and 70s. Frederick Creed was awarded a British patent for his SWATH (small-waterplane-area twin hull) in 1946, the first vessel being launched by the Netherlands in 1968. Since these vessels, the appearance, performance and ease of handling of cruising catamarans has improved dramatically over recent years.
Many sailors prefer a catamaran to a monohull for the living space and quality of views it provides. This may be the reason behind Beneteau launching a new brand (they already own Lagoon which is the biggest catamaran brand currently). Let’s look at the design elements of catamarans and monohulls more closely to explore why this may be the case.
Are catamarans faster than monohulls?
Speed depends on a catamaran’s size and design, its sails, and how heavily loaded it is for cruising. When comparing a catamaran to a monohull, pick boats of a similar length and performance pedigree. Even then, the conclusions you reach are only guidelines but due to their lower wetted surface area, catamarans are usually faster. On average, you can cover passages approximately 20 per cent to 30 per cent faster aboard a cruising catmaran than a monohull.
The price you pay for increased speed is reduced comfort and smoothness of ride. Monohull designs work more harmoniously with the elements instead of against them; for example, monohulls can ride waves rather than jump them.
Are catamarans safer than monohulls? –
Thanks to the stability provided by the two hulls, catamarans are balanced and steady platforms under power. Moving around on a flat deck is much easier and safer than on a deck at an angle. Another benefit of this stability is that it’s not necessary to have the mainsail up fully to prevent the boat from rolling. (You may wish to use less of your sail in strong winds to lower your speed.) Hence them being deemed by some as less ‘hard core’ as their monohull equivelants.
Always have a plan B –
Catamarans also have natural buoyancy, making them nearly impossible to sink. They can capsize in a bad accident, but at least you’ll always have something afloat to hold on to! In addition, catamarans have two of everything, and whilst this is a draw-back with regards to maintenance costs; having two of everything means you can usually still use the boat if one component isn’t working.
Do catamarans have keels?
Some catamarans do and some don’t – their windward performance is affected subject to this, in that they are inefficient upwind and tack very slowly. Without daggerboards, a cruising cat’s performance to windward isn’t the best because ‘minikeels’ aren’t quite as effective. On a performance cruising catamaran with deep daggerboards, windward performance is far better. However windward ability of catamarans is still usually slightly shy of that of a similar cruising monohull. But you can read up on tips on how to optimise this when sailing with a catamaran here.
If you dislike the steering precision involved when docking up large boats, having two engines provides handy twin-screw handling to make this easier. Out at sea however, monohulls can take sharper turns and navigate more easily through more narrow spaces (such as marinas).
Which has more space, a monohull or catamaran?
Cruising catamarans have on average 65 percent more usable living space than same-length cruising monohulls. It’s good to bear in mind however that larger catamarans can come with the drawback of paying double for a marina berth.
Does this matter?
Whether or not space is an issue probably depends on what you want the boat for – long versus short stays and competitions versus recreation. Catamarans have a wide appeal to boating duos, families and groups and are better for a more social style of sailing. As they’re spacious, they have dynamic social areas and they’re also more stable so they don’t heal (tip) as much as other boats.
As with speed, just how fuel efficient your catamaran is depends on its size, design, sails, load and of course how fast you ask the engine to take you! Because catamarans have reduced wetted surface area on their hulls, they’re more fuel-efficient in flat water, assuming equal number and horsepower of engines. In these conditions they can run on one engine at a time and only use both engines to propel the boat through more stormy seas. However, this is not the case in heavier weather, where the higher efficiency of monohull hull designs presents less resistance and higher fuel efficiency.
Cruising catamarans come in a wide variety of sizes, shapes, prices, and purposes. So there really is something out there for almost everybody. If you’re still unsure as to which is best, there’s a lot of information and sailors debating this on the web. This is a particularly concise but useful overview.
Borrow a boat have thousands of boats available to charter so whether it’s a monohull or catamaran you’d like to borrow or list – become part of the platform that’s revolutionising the leisure boat industry. Visit our website to see how it works for owners and boating first timers.